Wichita State University has been named to CollegeNET Inc.’s list of Social Mobility Innovators for 2019. Making the list means WSU has a proven track record of successfully enrolling students from low-income backgrounds and graduating them into promising careers.
The Social Mobility Index ranks nearly 1,400 four-year U.S. colleges and universities. The goal of the SMI -- now in its fifth year -- is to help redirect the attribution of "prestige" in the higher education system toward colleges and universities that are advancing economic mobility -- the most pressing civic issue of our time.
Over the past five years, Wichita State, which enrolls approximately 15,000 students, has consistently ranked among the top 3-6 percent of all schools on the SMI.
Approximately 45 percent of all degree-seeking undergraduates at Wichita State in fall 2018 came from families in which neither parent completed a four-year college degree. Wichita State continues to actively recruit and successfully retain low-income students throughout America’s heartland.
“We hope the SMI encourages more institutions to embrace and expand their role as conduits for restoring the American Dream. The first step in doing this is to identify and learn from colleges and universities like Wichita State,” says Jim Wolfston, CEO of CollegeNET.
Building purposeful campus culture for everyone
Wichita State was selected as a Social Mobility Innovator because of its multi-year and institution-wide commitment to recruiting and retaining students from under-served and under-represented populations in Dallas-Fort-Worth, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Kansas City, which are located along the I-35 corridor.
WSU is now expanding this outreach to Denver and St. Louis, along the I-70 corridor, and further down the I-35 corridor to Austin, San Antonio and Houston, which is off I-45.
“Beyond our recruitment efforts locally, we’re intensifying our outreach in an effort to attract an even more diverse group of students to Wichita State,” says Richard Muma, acting president. “But encouraging out-of-state enrollment will also enhance the future prosperity of Kansas by bringing talented young people to our campus who will, hopefully, stay in Wichita after graduation and work in our local economy.”
Wichita State’s inclusive culture -- in addition to its emphasis on career preparation -- has enabled it to increase its enrollment of students from Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas by 150 percent since 2015. It’s estimated that a third or more of Wichita State’s recent out-of-state graduates will stay in Kansas for employment opportunities.
Meanwhile, a host of companies -- including Airbus Americas Engineering, Spirit AeroSystems, Dassault Systèmes, Firepoint Innovations and the Law Enforcement Training Center -- have already established Wichita State campus locations.
Once students arrive at Wichita State from out of state, WSU does all it can to help them succeed on campus.
In addition to having its academic care teams step up their efforts on behalf of students, Wichita State is working to make its campus even more residential and even more of a destination. WSU has a record number of students living on campus. WSU is also exploring the idea of chartering buses to take first year out-of-state students back to their hometowns during break periods.
“We understand that these students are leaving home and coming a long distance to study at Wichita State,” explains Kim Sandlin, director of Student Success. “So we don’t want them to feel cut off, isolated or homesick. We’re determined to keep our retention numbers strong, and that means keeping our student population as healthy and happy as possible.”
“Wichita State is providing a world-class educational opportunity to promising students regardless of their economic background,” says Wolfston. “Their contribution and example are key at a time when economic mobility and the American Dream are rapidly deteriorating. Today, as tuition at U.S. campuses continue to increase while economic inclusion declines, Wichita State provides a strong example for reversing these trends.”
College education now constitutes the most important rung on the ladder of economic mobility, says Wolfston.
“Particularly when it offers a challenging environment populated with diverse ideas, personal backgrounds and viewpoints, a college does something even more important: it prepares students to encounter, navigate and appreciate the unfamiliar,” he says. “Given that innovation always depends upon a person’s ability to consider what could be different from their own assumptions and experiences, economic inclusion is thus not only a solution to a social justice issue, it is a key strategy for sparking innovative minds."